WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 516, 17 November, 2007
ISLAMIC GROUP QUIETLY BUILDS SUPPORT IN KYRGYZSTAN Kyrgyz government seems to
be unable to stop the growth of popular support for Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the
south. By Abdumomun Mamairov in Jalalabad
SETBACK LIKELY FOR KAZAKS OSCE HOPES Despite the governments optimism, local
observers predict Kazakstans bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 will be turned
down. By Esbergen Tumat in Almaty
MANY OBSTACLES TO NEW SILK ROUTE Grand plans for a free flow of goods between
east and west could be undermined by suspicious and uncooperative Central Asian
leaderships. By Tolkunbek Turdubaev in Bishkek
INVESTORS STILL HESITANT ABOUT TAJIKISTAN Analysts say the country must
simplify legislation and introduce transparency to entice new investors. By
IWPR staff in Central Asia
TURKMEN ENERGY EXTRACTION THREATENS ENVIRONMENT Experts call for new energy
projects to be accompanied with transparent monitoring of their environmental
effects. By IWPR staff in Central Asia
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ISLAMIC GROUP QUIETLY BUILDS SUPPORT IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyz government seems to be unable to stop the growth of popular support for
Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the south.
By Abdumomun Mamairov in Jalalabad
The Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir is going from strength to strength in southern
Kyrgyzstan, where many analysts it is winning the struggle for hearts and minds
despite an official ban on its activities. The Kyrgyz governments tactics of
arresting members and blocking public events staged by the group appear to be
helping it find new recruits rather than sapping its strength, as it positions
itself to articulate the discontent and social concerns of broad swathes of the
Some observers are now calling for a more sophisticated response, including
training mainstream Muslim clerics to a higher standard so that they are
equipped to deliver counter-arguments to Hizb-ut-Tahrirs claims, and offering
people other channels through which to express their concerns.
A RESILIANT AND INCREASINGLY CONFIDENT FORCE
Hizb-ut-Tahrir originated in the Middle East and gained a foothold in Central
Asia in the Nineties after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It first took hold
in Uzbekistan, where it remains strong despite the arrest thousands of alleged
members in recent years. It then spread to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
and Kazakstan, initially through the ethnic Uzbek communities there but
subsequently gaining ground among other population groups.
The group advocates the replacement of secular governments by a Caliphate
governed by Islamic precepts. Although it insists it does not advocate violence
as a means of achieving its aims, regional governments have accused it of being
behind a number of attacks, and have prohibited its activities and arrested
suspected members on a regular basis.
Unlike other regional states, the Kyrgyz criminal code does not explicitly ban
Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership, although the countrys Supreme Court issued a ruling
prohibiting the group from operating in 2003, and the constitution prohibits
faith-based political parties in general.
Despite sweeping arrests in Uzbekistan, and smaller numbers of detentions in
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the group still seems to attract members, in part
because its message speaks to socially and economically marginalised groups in
a way that government seems unable to do.
In southern Kyrgyzstan, it is thriving and finding new ways of engaging with an
overwhelmingly Muslim population on issues that concern them rather than on is
own specific agenda.
A few years ago, Hizb-ut-Tahrirs standard medium of communication was leaflets
stuck up in public places by activists. These days, they put out the word on
CDs and DVDs. A boom in Chinese imports has created a glut of DVD players that
are inexpensive even for southern Kyrgyzstan, the worst-off part of a poor
country. IWPR was told by locals that most families had a DVD machine and the
Hizb-ut-Tahrir films were watched with interest.
HI-JACKING OR HELPING BUILD COMMUNITY SPIRIT?
Members say their next DVD release will contain footage of Eid al-Fitr
celebrations marking the end of Ramadan in the southern town of Nookat. Islam
is strong here as it is across the Kyrgyz south Nookat district has 150
mosques, compared with 110 schools.
The groups role in this event, and the response of local government, provide
an object lesson in how the authorities struggle to find an adequate response
they do not want to allow Hizb-ut-Tahrir free rein, but using tough tactics to
stop it can prove counterproductive.
Abdygany Aliev, head of the Nookat district administration, said officials
would have been happy to support THE Eid celebrations but drew the line when
they felt Hizb-ut-Tahrir was hijacking the event.
He said the trouble began on October 12, when about 300 party supporters turned
up on the main square in Nookat along with ordinary Muslims keen to mark the
end of the fasting period with a traditional feast.
At first, we welcomed the initiative to hold a big celebration of the Muslim
feast, said Aliev. But Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists started using this event for
their own ends.
Before the Eid festival, about 1,000 people signed a petition calling on the
government to fund the celebrations, and also to pay for a new state school for
girls who want to follow the Muslim dress code.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir members told IWPR they helped with logistical arrangements for
When we announced the holiday, ordinary Muslims responded, with some giving
rice and others [cooking] equipment, said one of the organisers, 66-year old
Jibek Asanova from the village of Kara-Oy.
A member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir who gave his name as Khalil, added, Over 10,000
invitations were distributed, tightrope walkers were brought in from a
neighboring district, a free lottery was held, and we decided to treat people
to pilaf cooked outside, says other person who also
However, police stepped on and blocked the street celebrations. The police
wouldnt let the tightrope perform do their act, and made us cook the pilaf at
home and bring it to the square.
When the Muslims went off for Eid prayers, the police took away our pilaf
cauldron, foodstuffs and other items, said Khalil. Several young men involved
in prepareing the event were detained and beaten up.
Aliev confirmed that police stepped in but said they only did what was
necessary and acted within the bounds of the law.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir says the authorities actions caused widespread discontent among
Nookat residents, and the event transformed into a demonstration involving some
Ordinary Muslims and even schoolchildren condemned the actions of government,
said Khalil. They protested openly and cursed the officials. After all, pilaf
and other kinds of events are allowed during other holidays.
Activists say that having lost control, the local officials had to call in a
different kind of authority known Hizb-ut-Tahrir members to pacify the
The protest had tapped into a complex set of locally-felt feelings of
People should be aware of the shameful behaviour of our authorities who
defaced a sacred holiday, said another Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist, who did not
want to be named.
These officials are Muslims as well, so why are they putting pressure on us?
asked Asanova. They celebrate the Christian holiday [sic] of New Year and they
gave a prize of 50,000 soms [1,400 US dollars] for the best tree
. Why dont
they give us that money?
MOVING INTO LOCAL POLITICS
Local government chief Aliev insists Muslim celebrations are being exploited
for use in Hizb-ut-Tahrirs propaganda campaign.
It is a view shared by Dilmurat Orozov, the director of the Centre for Islamic
Education, who added that on another occasion where local officials did attend
a similar event, Hizb-ut-Tahrir turned this to its advantage, too.
They filmed one of the Muslim festivals that was attended by the local
authorities, said Orozov. Later they used the footage to suggest that the
festival had been organised by Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the local authorities came
along to it.
Observers have noted how Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which a few years ago was a covert
group whose only visible presence was its covertly-circulated leaflets, is now
using issues that have broad public appeal to reposition itself as a legitimate
force in the political mainstream. Last year, for example, as Kyrgyzstan was
discussing the need to revise its constitution, Hizb-ut-Tahrir sent a draft of
its own outlining the foundations of an Islamic state to the national
newspapers, which did not publish it.
Arkarbek Sadabaev, deputy head of the governments State Agency for Religious
Affairs, told IWPR earlier this year that that activists openly travel around
and make speeches in all parts of the country
. collect money, lay on meals and
hold charity campaigns to draw people in.
Sadabaev noted that the group was careful to avoid anything that might get them
into legal trouble. They know that unless they openly campaign to change the
constitutional system, they cannot be charged solely for belonging to the
party, he said.
PARTY SEEN AS A THREAT TO THE KYRGYZ STATE
Hizb-ut-Tahrirs ultimate aim remains the removal of the current secular state.
On an official website it describes itself explicitly as a political party
which will restore the Caliphate of the early days of Islam.
Officials have always tried to keep people in awe and talk to Muslims from a
position of strength, but they have not won peoples trust. People are
disappointed with democracy and the government, said Khalil.
Kyrgyz officials insist Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a real threat, and that it is funded
The more pressure the state puts on them, the more money they receive from
abroad, said Aliev. It hasnt been proved, but they do get money from abroad.
How else would they have the money to stage such celebrations?
Despite Hizb-ut-Tahrirs stress on non-violence, Kyrgyz officials allege that
weapons have been found during raids on members homes, and also that the group
is linked to another radical group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU
The IMU is a guerrilla group which mounted a series of armed incursions into
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan between 1999 and 2001. It lost the capacity to mount
such raids after the United States-led Coalition entered Afghanistan in late
2001, sweeping the Taleban and their IMU allies out of the north of the
country. The IMUs forces are now believed to be concentrated in Waziristan in
northwestern Pakistan, from where its leader Tohir Yuldash makes occasional
videoed statements aimed at people in Central Asia.
In the case of both Hizb-ut-Tahrir and IMU, the situation is complicated by the
cross-border connection with Uzbekistan, where the government has taken a much
tougher line on suspected Islamic radicals and has urged its Kyrgyz
counterparts to do the same. This pressure intensified after the Andijan
violence of May 2005, in which security forces shot down several hundred people
on the citys central square. Many people fled across the nearby border to
southern Kyrgyzstan, and Presdient Kurmanbek Bakievs administration came under
strong pressure to cooperate with Uzbek security servuces seeking to snatch
alleged militants among the refugees.
Several leading members of both Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU were killed in
Kyrgyz police operations last year, some of which involved the Uzbek secret
service. In perhaps the most notorious incident, Kadyr Malikov a prominent
Islamic cleric in southern Kyrgyzstan, Mohammadrafiq Kamolov, was shot dead
with two other men in what Kyrgyz security sources said was a counter-terrorism
operation conducted jointly with their Uzbek counterparts.
PRISON IS UNTILLED SOIL FOR US
OrozalyKarasartov, head of public affairs in the Jalalabad regional
administration, admits that apart from police methods, the state lacks the
tools to counter the Hizb-ut-Tahrir phenomenon.
In terms of ideology, the state cannot do anything against them because there
are so few experts in the state and security bodies, said Karasartov. I see
no way of fighting them other than punitive measures based on criminal law.
Karasartov insists that tough action will not lead to Hizb-ut-Tahrir recruiting
Many analysts disagree. Valentina Grizenko of Spravedlivost (Justice), a human
rights group which has taken up cases of Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists alleging
police mistreatment, said using force against the group was counterproductive.
Grizenko recalled a case from 2004 when the police brutally beat up four
Hizb-ut-Tahrir members as well as another man who was not a member. The result,
she said, was that this fifth man went on to join the party
She noted that the men filed a law suit against the police but lost the case
despite the existence of forensic medical reports stating that they had been
Party activists told IWPR that repressive measures and demonstrably flawed
legal processes only proved their case and boosted their recruitment
Let the government prevent us from conduction of holidays, persecute us and
put pressure on us. They only help us by doing that, said one man, who claimed
that thanks to government repression, membership was on the rise. He said the
group only had about 2,000 supporters in the south of Kyrgyzstan ten years ago,
but now there were 30,000 of them.
We consciously chose this path and agreed to the risk of death, said one
activist. We fear only God.
Other party members said the threat of imprisonment was no deterrent. Prison
is untilled soil for us, he said. There, too, we will do what we do.
TRADITIONAL CLERGY UNABLE TO FEND OFF HIZB-UT-TAHRIR MESSAGE
Hizb-ut-Tahrir belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam that is practiced in
Central Asia. But its radical stance, vigorous proselytising, and fragmented
cellular structure all mark it out from the normal practice of faith in
Kyrgyzstan, where the Islam is officially the preserve of a Soviet-era
hierarchical institution called the Muftiate which maintains close ties with
the secular state.
Many observers say the Muftiate and lower-level clerics are simply not up to
the job of confronting a new radical religious strand with its radical, dynamic
Observers say Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists deliver their message in clear and
simple terms, citing chapter and verse from the Koran and other literature. A
police investigator who did not want to be named said half in jest that if he
questioned a detained Hizb-ut-Tahrir suspect for a couple of months more, he
himself might get recruited into the party.
Meanwhile, the traditional clergy the mosque prayer-leaders or imams - are
not sufficiently versed in the finer points of theology to be able to explain
things clearly to their congregations and take the intellectual and moral high
ground against Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Unfortunately, our imams are unable to resist them, said Nookat local
government chief Aliev.
Orozov, now director of the Centre for Islamic Education, formerly headed the
Muftiates department in Jalalabad for nine years, and says that even the
national-level body is short on competence, while local imams are worse.
These [Muftiate] people are unqualified and lack authority
never mind the
imams, he said. We need to replace our imams with young, educated people.
Toygonbek Kalmatov, director of the government agency in charge of religious
affairs, said in September that of the 12,000 imams in Kyrgyzstan, 70 per cent
have had no formal theological training. That may, however, be partly because
only two theological faculties are currently entitled to issue nationally
recognised diplomas, while the Islamic University and other teaching
institutions are not.
ANOTHER CONTEST, ON HIZB-ut-TAHRIRS TERMS
Khalil, one of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir members interviewed for this report, said
that the group is already looking forward to the next big date in the Muslim
calendar, Eid al-Adha, known here as Kurban Bairam, which will fall in January.
During the run-up to last years festival, Hizb-ut-Tahrir mounted a campaign
for the abolition of the secular New Year holiday, which in Kyrgyzstan is of
Now they are viewing the next Eid holiday as an opportunity for a new trial of
strength with the Kyrgyz authorities. It looks like a win-win situation whether
officials opt to pay for the celebrations or not.
If they prohibit [sic] this holiday again, it will cause mass discontent among
even average Muslims, said Khalil. On the other hand, If they will organise
the celebrations themselves, they will have to admit they made a mistake during
the last one.
Abdumomun Mamairov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad, southern Kyrgyzstan.
SETBACK LIKELY FOR KAZAKS OSCE HOPES
Despite the governments optimism, local observers predict Kazakstans bid to
chair the OSCE in 2009 will be turned down.
By Esbergen Tumat in Almaty
While most analysts now expect that Kazakstans bid to chair the Organisation
for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009 will be unsuccessful, some
believe it suggest that it could get another chance two years after that.
A rejection for the 2009 chairmanship would be a blow to Astana, implying that
it had failed to reach required standards of democracy and human rights, but
local analysts say they do not fear a backlash in these areas if the bid is
OSCE foreign ministers are expected to take a final decision on Kazakstans
application when they meet on November 29-30.
Kazak officials have been lobbying hard to win the rotating chairmanship in
2009, as a way of winning acceptance as a major international player.
However, some of the OSCEs western members do not believe the chair should be
handed to Kazakstan when the country falls down on many of the democratic
principles to which participating states have signed up. OSCE foreign ministers
were expected to rule on the Kazak bid last December but concerns about whether
Astana had achieve key benchmarks led to the decision being delayed by a year.
Publicly, Kazak officials remain upbeat about their countrys chances. In a
November 12 interview for the Vremya newspaper, Kazak foreign ministry
spokesman Ilyas Omarov said it was premature to suggest the bid might fail.
However, the reason for his confidence seemed come down to the lack of a rival
candidate for the OSCE chair.
Kazakstan is the only candidate for 2009. There are simply no other
applicants, he said.
Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the OSCE
chairmanship this year, has indicated that member states are still divided on
We hope and are sure that this is an excellent opportunity for Kazakstan,
Central Asia, and the OSCE as a whole, he said in a speech on October 29. For
now, there is not a final consensus regarding the date of the chairmanship by
Spain is actively seeking to build a consensus amongst all OSCE
states on this important decision.
Most analysts believe it is unrealistic to expect a positive decision when
foreign minister gather next month, pointing to recent developments which have
probably made Kazakstans chances worse rather than better.
In August, President Nazarbayev's Nur-Otan party won every seat in the lower
house of parliament, in an elections which external observers said did not meet
international standards of fairness.
Then in late October, the authorities came under fire from media-watchers after
they blocked access to internet sites that were carrying transcripts of what
were alleged to be damaging phone conversations by senior officials.
Dosym Satpaev of the Risk Assessment Group in Almaty agrees that the 2009 bid
now looks unlikely.
One compromise, however, would be to offer the Kazaks a chance to win the chair
in 2011, the next available date. Satpaev believes that is on the cards. They
will propose that our country is made a candidate for 2011 and will lay down a
number of preconditions for that, he said.
However, if the 2011 date is put forward, Satpaev believes Kazak diplomats will
lobby to ensure no additional conditions are attached.
Satpaev is concerned that rejection could push Kazakstan closer to some of its
former Soviet neighbours which are also in the OSCE but would like to see the
security grouping devote less attention to examining members democratic and
human rights credentials specifically theirs.
They have tried to shift the focus of the OSCEs work from protecting human
rights to other areas such as security and energy provision.
Satpaev believes that if the OSCE was forced to move in such a direction, it
would harm the groupings reputation for upholding rights and freedoms and
would provide a pretext for restricting its mandate in some states.
Kazak journalist Ruslan Bakhtigareev shares these concerns. Writing in Vremya
on November 12, he said that if Kazakstans bid is rejected, some of its
partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States will press for changes to
A joint proposal has recently been put forward by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia,
Belarus, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which they hope will appear on the agenda
of the November meeting. They want election monitoring to be introduced in all
56 member states in other words not just in the undemocratic ones and to
restrict the size of OSCE election monitoring missions to 50.
Human rights activists are not predict that the Kazak authorities will become
more - or less oppressive if they fail to get the OSCE chair.
Sergei Duvanov, a journalist with Inkar-Info radio, said, There is a lot of
pressure on human rights organisations in Kazakstan. The overall trend towards
clamping down on them will continue regardless of whether Kazakstans bid is
successful or not. The authorities show no visible signs of trying to conform
to the OSCEs [democratic] principles.
Another Almaty-based political analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed
that the outcome will have little bearing on the situation inside Kazakstan.
The government controls the situation tightly. The majority of the population
is apolitical and neutral on political matters, and the opposition has a
limited influence on society as was demonstrated during the [August]
parliamentary election, he said.
Kanat Berentaev, deputy director of the Almaty-based Centre for Public Policy
Analysis, believes the aspiration to lead the OSCE comes from President
Nursultan Nazarbaev himself, who he says sees his own interests and the
national interest as one and the same thing.
If Kazakstan achieves something positive, it is due to his personal efforts.
If the president is successful at something, it is an achievement for
Kazakstan, said Berentaev.
Esbergen Tumat is the pseudonym of a journalist in Almaty.
MANY OBSTACLES TO NEW SILK ROUTE
Grand plans for a free flow of goods between east and west could be undermined
by suspicious and uncooperative Central Asian leaderships.
By Tolkunbek Turdubaev in Bishkek
While analysts welcome a recent agreement to create a modern trade route
through Central Asia, they say many barriers still stand in the way of its
An agreement on the trade route has been given the green light, with costs
estimated at 18 billion US dollars. However, local experts say the reluctance
of Central Asian countries to work together to smooth cross-border traffic
remains a serious obstacle.
On November 3, eight regional states agreed to a plan to improve the network of
roads, airports, railway lines, and seaports in Central Asia to create a
modern-day version of the Silk Road the trade route which for centuries
supplied a vital link from east to west and make the region a vibrant land
route for trade between Europe and Asia.
The plan was agreed at the sixth conference on the Central Asia Regional
Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Programme in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, attended
by ministers from, four of the five Central Asian states - Kazakstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan plus Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, China and
CAREC is an initiative backed by the Asian Development Bank, ADB, established
in 1997 to encourage economic cooperation among countries in Central Asia.
The plan as approved will mean ten years of investment in constructing and
upgrading of six road and rail transport corridors. Half of the funding will be
provided by the eight participating countries, and the ADB should put up the
In their joint declaration, CAREC ministers said, The strategy will establish
competitive transport corridors across the CAREC region, facilitate movement of
people and goods across borders, and develop safe, dependable, effective,
efficient and fully integrated transport systems that are environmentally
The idea of a common transport network has been discussed at other recent
forums. At a November 8 meeting with Sergei Lebedev, the Executive Secretary of
the Commonwealth of Independence States, president Kurmanbek Bakiev said he
would his countrys term in the rotating chairmanship of this former Soviet
grouping to work on regional transport issues and lifting unnecessary barriers
to trade, which he said were vital to develop the economic potential of
China and Uzbekistan announced they wanted to accelerate the construction of
transit roads through Kyrgyzstan - a decision confirmed when Chinese premier
Wen Jiabao visited Tashkent in early November. According to the Xinhua news
agency, China and Uzbekistan intend to increase their trade turnover to one and
a half billion US dollars by 2010.
While Central Asian analysts welcome the idea of a modern version of the Silk
Road, they express concern that the chronic lack of coordination between
countries in the region may mean the plan never gets off the ground. They say
that in the 16 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, Central Asian leaders
have failed to understand that collaboration is essential if they want to
According to the ADB, less than one per cent of the volume of trade between
Europe and Asia currently goes through Central Asia.
Most trade and transit arrangements are organised on a bilateral , often ad hoc
basis rather than through mulitilateral agreements.
Dosym Satpaev, who heads the Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group, argues that
disagreement on customs and transit policies has obstructed regional
International experience shows that transit brings in very substantial
profits, he said. The problem is that
there are considerable differences in
transit fees, customs regulations and tax levels have not been agreed, there
are problems with cross-border trade, and frontier are often closed, generally
for no good reason. And most importantly, there is no common policy for levying
fees on the transit of goods and services. All these factors, of course, have a
damaging effect on trade and economic cooperation in Central Asia.
Satpaev believes a supranational body is needed to develop and oversee common
customs and trade rules.
At the moment, he said, mistrust between regional leaders and a tendency to
strive for purely national interests puts them at a disadvantage. Central Asian
leaders feared losing the sovereignty their countries won with the collapse of
the Soviet Union.
These elites fear they would lose sovereignty a kind of mythical
independence if a supranational body were to be created. But nothing can
happen unless it is set up, he said.
Asylbek Ayupov, a specialist on regional economic ties at the Kyrgyz-Russian
Slavonic University in Bishkek, is convinced that creating common transport
corridors could boost the regional economy, but notes that outstanding disputes
between some regional states and their different levels of development are not
conducive to greater cooperation.
One of the main obstacles to the free flow of goods, he said, is systemic
corruption at every step of the process.
The system itself
does not change; the same people are in charge of the
process. It is their fault that corruption has become a clot in the blood
vessels of the economy. Corrupt relationships are an integral part of the
current system; they cannot be broken as they are as strong and enduring as a
granite monolith, said Ayupov.
Mahamadjon Abdurakhmanov, a businessman from Bishkek, told IWPR of the kind of
problems Central Asians face when crossing into neighbouring countries, You
face many difficulties even when you go to the nearest, neighbouring country.
In my experience, the journey entails all kinds of checks and searches at the
border. People often have to wait in queues, fill in migration cards and
customs declarations and go through lengthy procedures.
According to Abdurakhmanov, transporting goods is even more difficult, with
long and cumbersome border procedures to go through.
Although there are legal requirements to be met in order to cross the border,
these could be simplified and more civilised limits, he said. That would mean
that my colleagues and I would cross the border more frequently five or ten
times a month, instead of the two or three times we do now. We together with
the leaders in our region - would benefit from such a revival in commerce.
Tolkunbek Turdubaev is a BBC stringer in Kyrgyzstan.
INVESTORS STILL HESITANT ABOUT TAJIKISTAN
Analysts say the country must simplify legislation and introduce transparency
to entice new investors.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Foreign companies remain reluctant to invest in Tajikistan due to the
complicated legislation and widespread corruption, experts say.
At the end of October, the Tajik head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Hamrohon Zarifi held a meeting with European ambassadors accredited to the
country and called for their countries to invest in Tajikistan.
In particular, the authorities are seeking financial backing for work to
complete the giant Rogun hydroelectric power station, construction of which was
suspended this summer after disagreements between Tajikistan and the Russian
company constructing the plant.
However, this was not an attractive prospect to the European diplomats, who
argued that little progress had been made in creating a favourable climate for
Tajikistan is one of the poorest states in the region and lacks energy
resources other than the water that powers electricity.
The Rogun plant is seen as being of vital importance to the countrys future,
and the authorities are keen to finish the project. Construction began three
decades ago, but ground to a halt after the collapse of the Soviet Union in
In 2004, Tajik President Imomali Rahmon gave Russian aluminum company RUSAL
rights to complete the work, the idea being that copious amounts of electricity
would allow the firm to invest in aluminium production, a notoriously
power-hungry industry. However, the deal fell apart earlier this year over
differences on technical issues such as the height of the dam, and in
September, Rahmon signed a final document annulling the contract.
To complete the project, Dushanbe wants to create a consortium involving
several foreign investors. But analysts say it may be hard to find takers.
The Ministry for Economic Development says foreign direct investment is rising,
with 196 million US dollars last year and 167 million dollars in
But 105 million dollars of this years sum came from just one source - Russian
money earmarked for another hydroelectric project at Sangtuda illustrating
the painful lack of diversity in the countrys investors. Most investment
currently comes from Tajikistans strategic ally Russia, culturally similar
Iran, and eastern neighbour China.
British ambassador Graeme Loten, speaking as the local chair of the European
Union, said Tajikistan needed to simplify its legislation and make investment
conditions more transparent if it was to attract a wider range of investors.
Tangled legislation must be simplified, information on investments must be
more transparent and, most importantly, corruption must be fought at all
levels, he said.
Loten told IWPR that British investors who have to work on joint ventures have
complained to him of frequently-changing rules and the modification of official
agreements. He cited the case of one British company forced to pull out the
country after changes were made to its agreement with the Tajik government.
Dilshod Alimov, a lawyer with the Pragma Corporation, a Washington-based
consultancy, told IWPR that registering in Tajikistan is a long and complicated
business. Investors must go through a number of formal procedures and deal with
a range of agencies including the justice and interior ministries.
An entrepreneur has to go through all of these agencies himself and the
registration process may take from two to six months, said Alimov.
According to Alimov, the process could be simplified if the government
introduced a one-stop shop where investors could deal with all the different
agencies at the one time. Tajikistan is moving towards such a system, but the
lawyer said it was hard to say when it would happen.
Alimov agreed that investing is Tajikistan is a risky prospect, with the
country coming second-bottom on last years World Bank list of countries ranked
by levels of investor protection.
One significant omission, he said, was that Tajikistan was not a signatory to
the convention governing international courts of arbitration, so when foreign
companies find themselves in dispute with local partners, they have to work
through the local court system.
Several investors have lost court cases in Tajikistan, said Alimov.
The converse is also true, Alimov added. The many legal loopholes can allow
investors to come in and conduct business in a manner that would never be
allowed in their countries.
Another analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said that investors faced
great difficulties from Tajik bureaucracy and high levels of corruption. In
particular, he highlighted problems with registration even though the
official fee is low, the agencies involved can demand extra payments to deal
with certain technicalities.
Gafur Rasulov, a departmental head at the Ministry for Economic Development and
Trade, accepted that despite some improvements, business conditions were
nowhere near meeting modern international standards.
In some cases, he said, contracts were changed at a later date because those
involved in drawing them up on the Tajik side did not fully understand the
implications at the time.
If the financial analysts concerned had understood all the necessary
components and the risks at the time, it wouldnt have been necessary to change
the terms ten years down the line, he said.
Analyst Khojimahmad Umarov argues that the main barriers to foreign investment
are corruption and red tape. In addition, Tajikistan is not helped by its
landlocked isolation and its poor transport infrastructure.
Umarov said one answer was to provide more tax incentives than neighbouring
Central Asian states. Theres a need to offer conditions that are better than
in neighbouring countries, for instance on taxation. In practice, we have
significantly higher taxes than Russia and Kazakstan, he said,
Saifullo Safarov, deputy director of the presidents Centre for Strategic
Research, is more optimistic, arguing that the government is working on making
Tajikistan more attractive by improving legislation and other areas.
Previously, there were no good hotels, poor communications, and a poor banking
system. Now everything has got significantly better. There are high-class
hotels being constructed, communications are better than in many other
countries, and the banks are getting stronger and more stable, he said.
TURKMEN ENERGY EXTRACTION THREATENS ENVIRONMENT
Experts call for new energy projects to be accompanied with transparent
monitoring of their environmental effects.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Deals to increase extraction of Turkmen hydrocarbons are being done behind
closed doors, with no information available on measures taken to protect the
environment, say analysts.
Environmentalists are calling for the authorities in energy-rich Turkmenistan,
which ranks fourth in the world for natural gas extraction, to conduct
independent monitoring of the damage to the environment caused by extraction
and processing, and to make information on this publicly available.
Apart from the state oil and gas producer, there are also 48 foreign firms
involved in developing sites under production-sharing agreements, including
Dubai-based Dragon Oil, Malaysian government owned Petronas, Denmarks Maersk
and the German Wintershall.
While these foreign investors have to meet certain environmental obligations,
the terms of their contracts are confidential and inaccessible to the public.
Within the last six months, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has been
actively seeking new energy partners and has invited a number of foreign
companies to come in.
In March, he made it a priority to develop the Turkmen sector of the Caspian
Sea. Under a state plan, Turkmenistan is supposed to increase production of
natural gas by 50 per cent and oil by 15 per cent by the end of 2007, both by
opening up new finds and using imported technology to rationalise extraction
In mid-October, Berdymuhammedov took a step towards opening up access to energy
resources for British companies when he signed a memorandum of understanding
with the Minister of State for Energy, Malcolm Wicks. One month earlier,
Ashgabat agreed to a number of joint oil and gas projects with Japans JGC
A substantial increase in investment is expected after an international oil and
gas exhibition and conference scheduled for the end of December.
However, environmentalists are concerned about the effect of more energy
Tight restrictions on information in mean that there has been no independent
environmental monitoring in the country for a long time. and there is no
official data on the environmental situation.
In September 2007, the United States-based pressure groups Crude Accountability
published a report in which it expressed its concern at the lack of available
information both on the environmental obligations of investors in Turkmen
energy, and on terms of compensation that oil and gas companies must pay in the
case of environmental pollution.
One of the reports recommendations was that companies should ensure that
environmental impact assessments are conducted properly and in compliance not
only with national legislation but also with the highest international
One local ecologist says the Turkmen government is not willing to cooperate
with experts on the environment.
We do not have environmentalists who could conduct research on environmental
changes and the impact of drilling sites on human and animal immune systems.
[We are] are not allowed in anywhere, and we play no role in important
environmental decisions, said the employee of an Ashgabat environmental
organisation who asked to remain anonymous.
An employee of Turkmenistans nature protection ministry insisted, however,
that checks were in place to protect the environment and ensure that companies
met their obligations.
No contract will be concluded without an environmental impact assessment.
Waste water must not exceed 0.005 milligrams of petrochemicals products per
litre. For instance, at our request the Malaysian company Petronas is currently
procuring additional equipment, the official told IWPR.
However, an analyst working on a local environmental project believes the
current measures are insufficient, and would like to see the government allow
independent environmental experts to visit oil and gas fields under development
to assess the situation.
There should be public monitoring at all sites, and the state must impose the
highest requirements on investors, he said.
A scientist from Turkmenistans Institute for Desert Research, who specialises
in the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, said that even with the
latest production methods, pollution is inevitable.
We are on the brink of an environmental catastrophe, because the Caspian
an intervention like wide-scale development of oil and gas
fields, argued the scientist.
Residents of Turkmenbashi, a major port on the eastern Caspian, are concerned
that further developing the oil and gas industry may pose a threat to them.
Over one billion dollars has been earmarked for an upgrade of the local oil
refining complex, one of the biggest in the country.
I worry about the arrival of a large number of foreign companies, said a
doctor from the city. How conscientiously will they fulfill all the
requirements? How will they dispose of waste products? What impact will all of
these have on the environment?
The residents may have reason to be worried. On the Saymonov Bay on the city
outskirts, oil refineries have been disposing of waste for many years, and
there is evidence of pollution.
Analysts say the last environmental study here was done in 1993, and showed
then that the concentration of hydrocarbons in the air was 400 times what it
should be, and levels of toxic phenols was 70 to 80 times higher than normal.
People who live there say there is an unpleasant smell in the air whenever the
weather is windy.
If the wind blows off the sea, we immediately close the windows of our homes
so as not to be suffocated, said one local.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists,
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly
The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek,
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better
local and international understanding of the region.
IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The
service is published online in English and Russian.
The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule
Mukhametrakhimova; Project Director: Kumar Bekbolotov.
IWPR Project Development and Support: Executive Director: Anthony Borden;
Strategy & Assessment Director: Alan Davis; Chief Programme Officer: Mike Day.
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ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2007 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
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